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Make Books Matter Again

Ten Books to Provoke Conversation in the New Year

by RALPH NADER

1. Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons by David Bollier (New Society Publishers)
David Bollier is a leading writer and advocate for all those real-life commons – what we own, from the public lands, public airwaves, online information and local civic assets. He calls the commons a “parallel economy and social order that…affirms that another world is possible. And more: we can build it ourselves, now.”

2. All the President’s Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power by Nomi Prins (Nation Books)
All the President’s Bankers is about the hidden alliances between big bankers and the government leaders they have controlled for the past 100 years. A gripping history that reflects the words of the famed Louis B. Brandeis (later to become Supreme Court Justice Brandeis) who wrote: “We must break the Money Trust or the Money Trust will break us.” Prins was a former Goldman Sachs director. She knows this world.

3. How Can You Represent Those People? Edited by Abbe Smith and Monroe H. Freedman (Palgrave Macmillan)
How many times have criminal defense attorneys been asked this question when they represent unpopular, unsavory, or horrific accused defendants? Fifteen criminal defense lawyers write short but educational replies in both personal and professional terms. You’ll learn a lot about our legal system.

4. The Truth in Small Doses: Why We’re Losing the War on Cancer and How to Win It by Clifton Leaf (Simon & Schuster)
The Truth in Small Doses is a detailed, sober myth-busting report. Leaf concludes the “war on cancer” is a failure due to a dysfunctional “cancer culture” – “a groupthink that pushes tens of thousands of physicians and scientists toward the goal of finding the tiniest improvements in treatment rather than genuine breakthroughs; that fosters isolated and redundant problem-solving instead of cooperation; and rewards academic achievement and publication above all else.” He shows why “the public’s immense investment in research has been badly misspent.”

5. The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives by Sasha Abramsky (Nation Books)
The American Way of Poverty is a worthy successor to Michael Harrington’s The Other America which came out in 1962 and helped spark a war on poverty. Abramsky puts many faces of poverty into a broader context which sparks reader indignation that statistics alone can’t provoke.

6. The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Influence on American Business by Duff McDonald (Simon and Shuster)
The Firm portrays a finishing school for the plutocracy both as an early recruiter of future power brokers in business and government and as a “prestigious” provider of dated business management advice often of dubious value.

7. Censored 2014: Fearless Speech in Fateful Times by Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth with Project Censored (Seven Stories Press)
Censored 2014 is an annual open window to censorship of the big and routine kind. It is always a must read. This volume describes the top censored stories with media analysis of 2012-2013. What a shocking commentary on the so-called free press!

8. Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Protecting Public Health by Nicholas Freudenberg (Oxford University Press)
Aggregation is a key strategy for justice movements. Author Freudenberg gives readers an absorbing aggregation of corporate crimes and abuses that destroy or damage every day the health, safety and economic well-being of the people. Then he aggregates the past civic/political victories over market fundamentalism and its corporate outlaws for framing future reform initiatives.

9. Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s by Michael Stewart Foley (Hill and Wang)
Decades are stereotyped and often exaggerated. Foley counters the conventional take that there was a sharp and sudden letdown in civic activism after the sixties. Maybe the impression was conveyed by the media’s lessened coverage. Good antidote for those still demoralized by decennial mythologies.

10. The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System by Jerry Mander (Counterpoint)
The Capitalism Papers is a fundamental critique of the intrinsic problems of the capitalist system that the author believes are inherent to its structure and unreformable. A former celebrated advertising executive, Mander goes deeper into the perverse incentives of corporate capitalism than almost anyone writing today. And man, can he write. Too bad top Wall Streeters won’t debate him.

Years ago books mattered more in provoking change. It is up to readers today not to be overwhelmed by information overload, to be selective and make books matter again.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.